Where would we be without the inventions of the great men of the world? Apple - Steve Jobs, the telephone - Alexander Graham Bell, the atomic bomb - Albert Einstein, the gun - Richard Gatling. Nowhere - right? But what about those more practical inventions, the ones that are necessity - those that you use unthinkingly every day?
Below are inventions by women that you could not live without - whether for sanity or vanity, everything below - from the dishwasher to the hairbrush, was invented by women for practicality and advantageous purposes. They go largely unrecognized now, because they are mostly objects or entities we take for granted, but SWAAY has decided to pause amidst the roaring tide of products and inventions that we could live without in 2017, to languish in the glory of those that we really couldn't survive without.
The Car Heater
Margaret Wilcox is the woman you have to thank for 1. de-fogging your windows and 2. keeping you toasty in sub-0 temperatures in your car. She was patented for the car radiator back in 1893 and how many lives/chilly journeys has she saved since? Millions. Try picture a car journey in December through the mountains, without a heater, cold right? All hail Wilcox for our fingers and toes getting through the chillier of seasons.
Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr became a trailblazer in the field of wireless communications when she moved to the U.S.
Working to combat Nazi transmissions during WWII, her and co-inventor George Anthiel warped radio frequencies to break difficult code. The invention would go on to prove extremely useful during the Cuban Missile Crisis and their work has now translated into tech such as wifi and bluetooth. She was the first female to receive the 'oscar' of inventor awards - the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Bronze Award back in 1977.
The Computer Algorithm
Born Ada Gordon, but known as Ada Lovelace - child of the renowned poet Lord Byron and math whiz Annabella Milbanke, was 'the first computer programmer' to produce algorithms. Lovelace came across Charles Babbage, philosopher, mathematician and mechanical engineer, in her pursuit of a career in mathematics, and the pair would go on to become great friends. Babbage called Lovelace 'The Enchantress of Science', and indeed, she would be the first of all those working with him to produce the goods for his vision of the 'analytical engine', or computer. Her articles rendered the most sense and logic towards this dream machine and were the first published. The list of consequences that emerged from Lovelace's work is very literally endless. And yet it's Babbage's name that most will regognize - why? It was a recurring problem at the time and an analysis of a lot of female inventors will find that many hid in the shadows of the man or guardian or male co-inventor in their life, only to emerge now, in the whits of feminism for the praise and inspirational achievements.
Florence Parpart, a historical mystery, was indeed the inventor of the modern 'fridge'. In 1914, she won a second patent for the modern refrigerator. Apart was listed as a housewife in the U.S census for most of her life, although of course those few historical records pertaining to her inventions would have you believe otherwise. The thoughts of not having a fridge are baffling - what would happen to milk? How would you keep white wine or beer cold? How would one make ice? Where would you store chicken? How would you keep your brie from melting? Absurd.
Lyda Newman may not be the OG inventor of the hairbrush - she is however responsible for how it looks and feels today. This African-American introduced the synthetic bristles to the brush and got a patent for this invention back in 1898. Before Lyda, people were using Boar's hair to brush their locks. Lyda's bristles as we know them today collect the impurities in your hair - broken strands etc. and allow for easy removal after you've finished. They're also good for styling up-dos, backcombing, fluffing, coiffing and all other things one does with one's modern hairbrush.
Can you even imagine how many hours of your life you would spend washing your dirty dishes had Josephine Cochrane not invented the dishwasher back in 1886 while elbow deep in a tub of suds? It's unfathomable. Cochrane had been left in severe debt by husband William when inspiration struck after one of her servants broke some of her precious china. The industrial revolution had ended about 40 years previously and Cochrane had seen the fruits of this push for new machinations and inventions and thought why isn't there a machine to wash my dishes. She received her first patent in 1886 and sold all of her dishwashers by herself. A true businesswoman, and lifesaver.
The Chocolate Chip Cookie
Okay, so perhaps you could live without chocolate chip cookies. Perhaps you don't have a sweet-tooth. However, it is my firm belief that Ruth Graves Wakefield changed the world indelibly with her discovery back in 1930. Having served butterscotch nut cookies at her Toll House Inn, MA, she looked for something that would further please her customers, and added that perfect chip of sheer delight in the form of Nestle's semi-sweet chocolate. Chocolate and cookies. What an intriguing combination, and one I will forever be indebted to Wakefield for.
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.